Detailed diagram of braille Xbox controller with braille attachments and paddles for input
Source: WIPO

A patent for a new Xbox controller, designed for the vision-impaired, has surfaced and it looks like it might be joining Microsoft’s Adaptive Controller in making gaming a more accessible environment.

Over a year ago, the Xbox Adaptive Controller was unveiled as a means for physically impaired gamers to cater controllers to their own needs.

The patent itself was made public by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) a few days ago and was first spotted on Dutch tech site LetsGoDigital. The controller has yet to be confirmed by Microsoft *cough E3?* but the patent does shows off what is described as a “Haptic Braille Accessory” that can be attached to the Xbox controller itself.

How Would the Braille Controller Work?

The intent of the Braille display is to allow visually-impaired or blind users to receive various forms of in-game text — including game chat — that they can interpret.

The patent further explains that the display may convert, “descriptive content about visual elements, such as voiceover to explain all/selected game activity.” An approach often used by film in its translation into Braille.

However, it is understandable that some games are extremely heavy on textual content and have the chance to overwhelm the user. With this in mind, Microsoft’s patent looks at the implementation of a content filtering system for this controller. And this would be translated through a number of paddles set where fingers would normally fit on a controller.

Detailed Diagram of Braille Controller Patent with Hand Example and Paddles
Source: WIPO

As a very basic example, if a player wants to focus on being warned of an enemy attack over other information, the controller can be set to prioritise vibrations through its paddles and other information can be fed to the Braille attachment.

Making Gaming for Everyone

In Australia, more than 453,000 people live with some form of blindness or vision impairment.

But it’s not just the peripherals that can provide accessibility, game design is also an important factor. Subtitles may seem toggle-able to most but for the vision-impaired they are a necessity.

We’ve seen games like the Spyro Reignited Trilogy receive criticism for not including subtitles. However, subtitles are not only important from a gameplay perspective but also in terms of narrative and worldbuilding. Subtitling not only cutscenes but the interactions between characters in open world games — like The Witcher, the Elder Scrolls series and Red Dead Redemption — can help provide context to the character relationships that form within these narratives.

The Witcher 3 characters Geralt, Young Ciri and Vesemir in a grassy courtyard with stables around them.
It’s during a game’s random dialogue that we get subtle pieces of information about the world around our protagonist. Source: CD Projekt Red

Last year, Xbox Head Phil Spencer spoke of how the gaming industry has a responsibility to make gaming for everyone. And with the potential introduction of this ‘Braille Controller’, the industry would be taking further steps towards this goal. However, developers can also play an important role as these accessibility-friendly peripherals can work as intended if games can help accommodate them.

When I’m not addressing my addiction to Overwatch, I like to dabble in the odd JRPG with some favourites coming from the Final Fantasy franchise. I’m a sucker for games with great stories and fantastic music but I also love a good nostalgia trip with some oldies but goodies. I’m currently studying Journalism at the University of Technology Sydney and as a video games enthusiast, I love being able to report on them to my heart's content.